Humanity is currently facing some of the most profound changes we have seen in generations, presenting us with challenges and opportunities to reassess long-held concepts, structures, and ways of being. One of the most debated topics of the past few decades has been globalisation, which has followed a particular path shaped by the interests of a global order that was already shifting prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The question now is, with the accelerated changes taking place across the world, what will this mean for globalisation?
To address this extremely critical and timely topic, the DOC has launched a series of expert articles on the ‘Future of globalisation’. We are committed to providing an open platform for diverse views and in the spirit of open dialogue, the series will cover a range of contrasting perspectives. This initial contribution from Huailiang Li represents one perspective from China.
Some argue that the spread of populism and unilateralism in the world may very well put an end to the current era of globalisation. However, what is really happening is that we have entered globalisation version 2.0 – the ‘era of global community’. The era of global community is the deepening and rectification of globalisation, rather the end and total replacement of version 1.0. When reviewing the concepts of the ‘global village’, ‘globalisation’, and ‘global community’, we find that the global village is a compression of both time and space, while globalisation is a concept with the characteristics of Westernisation. However, ‘global community’ encompasses a humanitarian view of mutually shared community in an empathetic sense.
Without doubt, ‘globalisation’ is a term that has had a significant impact on contemporary global society since the 1980s. In recent years, however, a new trend of anti-globalisation has emerged, since both the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. The rise of populism is haunting the Western world as the US has abandoned its role as an active promoter of globalisation and turned its back on a series of international agreements. By advocating unilateralism and ‘America First’, the Trump administration has raised tariff barriers and launched a trade war, which has seriously hammered the global industrial chain. This, in turn, has further damaged a global economy that was already weak and fragile.
In the past two months, the US stock market has triggered circuit breakers four times and Wall Street worries that a once-in-a-century economic crisis may be around the corner. As for the pandemic, it is said that nearly 5,000,000 people have been infected as of 19 May 2020. The virus is threatening public health and has taken many lives. No one is spared from the risk of infection and an atmosphere of terror is spreading around the world. When the ghost is calling, humankind starts to feel the common need for survival.
Economic globalisation facilitates the adjustment of industrial structures and the integration of industrial chains on a worldwide scale, and adds new momentum to the development of the international economy and trade. But globalisation has more than just one facet. As Roland Robertson (1995, p. 25) said, the essence of globalisation is “the historical cause of the propagation of the Western modernity around the world”.
There are two significant characteristics of the era of globalisation: First is the global mobility of Western capitalist transnational corporations. Resting on advantages in capital strength, cutting-edge technologies, advanced management experience, and diversified marketing strategies, these rule-makers have gained market monopoly and earned abundant, if not excessive, profits in international markets. Second is the international hegemony of liberal internationalism as the dominant discourse of globalisation. The governance model featuring the market economy and multi-party competition is said to be the ultimate model and valued universally in the progress of humanity. Any other conflicting models are labeled as ineffective and backwards, even authoritarian, and are deprived of any legitimacy. And that is the fundamental reason why countries with different governance structures and development models like China lack a voice in the international arena.
However, since the era of global community has emerged, whether one likes it or not, we are finding ourselves linked together more than ever before, in the battle against the virus. This era has exhibited three major characteristics so far.
Characteristics of the era of global community
The first characteristic is a shared future. All human beings are closely connected with each other and share a common future regardless of gender, age, class, social status, race, ethnicity, or nationality. Recently, many countries have adopted various restrictions on international travel to stop the spread of COVID-19. This seems to indicate a separation between countries, but it also illustrates that the virus is a common enemy to all of humanity. Traditionally, order is based on the power of sovereign states. When power can be passed onto non-state actors in association with a number of emerging global issues including terrorism, cybersecurity, refugees, disease, financial crises, and climate change, the impacts move beyond national borders. What happens within one country is no longer a matter of concern for that country alone. Events influence other players in the global economy. Therefore, Richard Haass (2017), the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that the world order has been upgraded to version 2.0, which in fact presents the characteristics of the era of global community.
The second characteristic of the era of global community is partnership. Greater cooperation is called for to safeguard our community. In a call with US President Donald Trump on 27 March 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored that:
“[The] China-US relationship has reached an important juncture. As cooperation benefits both sides and confrontation hurts both, the former remains the only correct choice. It is hoped that the US will take substantive steps to improve the relationship and work with China to strengthen cooperation in areas such as outbreak preparedness and response. This will contribute to building a relationship based on non-conflict or non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation”.
In the era of global community, multilateral cooperation is crucial. This is not only true for China and the US but for other countries as well. China, by adhering to the notion of a ‘Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ in handling international affairs, has built partnerships at the international and regional levels, and embarked on a new path of state-to-state exchanges by choosing “dialogue and partnership over confrontation and alliance”, according to President Xi Jinping in a report to the 19th CPC National Congress.
In the era of global community, China advocates that all countries get rid of the set pattern of alliances and confrontation, and instead encourage equality, communication, and mutual understanding. All countries need to stop making up imaginary enemies and instead seek inclusive and constructive partnerships that do not compromise third parties. And this should be the direction countries take in handling international relationships. In the face of the current pandemic, it has come to our understanding that we all live in a community with a shared future. Nothing is likely to impede on this connectivity between countries. Greater communication, closer dialogue, more openness, and coordinated policies will be our best chance to walk out of the mud, so to speak.
The third characteristic is openness and inclusiveness. The world governance model and mode of discourse need to be more diversified. A ‘Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ will underpin the Era of Global Community, as it gains wider international recognition.
In the era of globalisation 1.0, Western political leaders and academic elites deemed the Western model of governance as the only legitimate model. However, countries are at different historical stages and phases of development – politically, economically, and culturally. They are all entitled to seek development paths and governance models that best suit their particular contexts. Take the various approaches towards COVID-19 as an example. China managed to contain the internal spread of the virus within just two months and has been willing to share its experience and practical advice with the world, but not claiming it to be the only correct approach. China also speaks highly of the effective actions taken by countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and Japan in accordance with their specific national conditions.
To paraphrase philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, “no leaves in the world are exactly the same”. Inclusiveness enriches community and civilisations are more appealing when they’re diverse. There is no one-size-fits-all path of development and guarantee for success. The fight against COVID-19 is the top priority for all countries, so it should be fought in a way that fits each country’s specific national conditions. Countries, civilisations, and ethnic groups – in spite of their differences – benefit from equal communication, mutual learning, and common progress. All parties should respect each other’s autonomy, and join hands in seeking effective solutions to economic and social development by promoting constructive dialogue and properly handling differences that may arise.
Challenges in the era of global community
There are several challenges we are facing. First, there are natural disasters and pandemics. COVID-19 not only threatens millions of lives, but also shrouds the world in an atmosphere of terror and anxiety. Normal social life has been forced to halt. Activities such as sporting events, art performances, and attending school have given way to social distancing. People are afraid of socialising, and neighbourhoods are emptier than ever before. For many, this is a difficult period during which the colour of world is fading away and life is becoming bleak.
Second is the impending recession (or even depression). The highly globalised industrial supply chain enables enterprises to organise production on a global scale and introduce products to the market in a timely manner. The breadth of supply chain distribution makes it possible for manufacturers to use parts and materials originating from other countries. A thriving transportation industry accelerates the circulation of goods, and consequently reduces stock costs. Well-designed products can be purchased and shipped worldwide. Any hold on inventory for more than a few days is deemed a market failure.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic proves that pathogens can not only infect humans, but also destroy an entire chain of production. The four successive circuit breakers in the US stock market, something that hasn’t been witnessed in a century, severely impacted people’s confidence in the world economy.
The third challenge is parochialism and prejudice. When COVID-19 hit China, many countries, international organisations, enterprises, social groups, and individuals extended a helping hand and expressed their firm support towards the Chinese people. However, some countries tried to stigmatise and demonise China out of ideological and cultural prejudice, calling the virus a ‘Chinese virus’. An Wall Street Journal opinion article even called China the “real sick man of Asia”, which was highly offensive to the Chinese people. The US Commerce Secretary gloated that the outbreak of the pandemic would help enterprises return to the US. Moreover, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo connected the virus and China’s social institutions. This antagonistic attitude as opposed to one of cooperation with China, cost the US a precious window of opportunity to contain the virus, and the country ended up as the epicenter of the pandemic. The crisis has made clear that a virus knows no borders, and is a common enemy to all human beings. To defeat the virus, the first thing to do is to overcome parochialism and prejudice.
Entering the era of global community does not mean simply a ‘world commonwealth’. The word ‘community’ is an important concept that is widely used in philosophy, political science, and anthropology. Since sociology became an independent discipline in the mid-19th century, community has become a fundamental concept in sociological studies. Typologically speaking, community may refer to an ethnic community, religious community, racial community, and even scientific community, artistic community, etc. According to Gerard Delanty (2011), community “actually refers to a special social phenomenon or a notion of belonging, which expresses a longing for meaning, solidarity, and collective actions”.
The notion of a ‘Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ transcends the historical theories of community and tries to illustrate the ‘notion of belonging’ from a long-term perspective, and according to Delanty, is a good reflection of a human being’s “longing for meaning, solidarity, and collective actions”. The notion of a ‘Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ is the guiding philosophy of China in handling international affairs. In the fight against COVID-19, China has arguably demonstrated the essence of this notion by putting it into practice and winning the international community precious time to fight the virus.
China shared information about their experience without reservation and made its best efforts to provide assistance and support to more than 80 countries around the globe. From these actions, the notion of a ‘Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ could take root in the international community. It is possible that in the post-pandemic era the notion of ‘A Community with Shared Future for Mankind’ is going to gain more international support, and will eventually become the mainstream discourse of the international community.